Thursday, June 28, 2007

Dick Cheney's toadies

Cheney, who has a habit of firing employees who aren't true believers, has managed to gather a collection of the finest sycophants in American government.

For example Paul Hoffman, who just knew that Dick is both a snowmobile enthusiast and has a peculiar hatred for cutthroat salmon:
Hoffman, now in another job at the Interior Department, said Cheney never told him what to do on either issue -- he didn't have to.

"His genius," Hoffman said, is that "he builds networks and puts the right people in the right places, and then trusts them to make well-informed decisions that comport with his overall vision."

Cheney also isn't too big a man to help focus the concentration of those who aren't as quick on the uptake:
Aides praise Cheney's habit of reaching down to officials who are best informed on a subject he is tackling. But the effect of his calls often leads those mid-level officials scrambling to do what they presume to be his bidding.
That's their euphemism for his inclination to get on the phone directly with people who take the law too literally, like the Interior Department official who thought she was supposed to enforce the Endangered Species Act.

That's what happened when a mortified Wooldridge finally returned the vice president's call, after receiving a tart follow-up inquiry from one of his aides. Cheney, she said, "was coming from the perspective that the farmers had to be able to farm -- that was his concern. The fact that the vice president was interested meant that everyone paid attention."

Cheney made sure that attention did not wander. He had Wooldridge brief his staff weekly and, Smith said, he also called the interior secretary directly.

Apparently, the technique is a big motivator. He gets lots of praise from those who survive his trial by fire:

[Mike] Gerson added: "It's principled. He's deeply conscious that this is a dangerous world, and he wants this president and future presidents to be able to deal with that. He feels very strongly about these things, and it's his great virtue and his weakness."

Cheney's deep principle here is that the U.S. should adopt the torture techniques developed by Stalinist Russia.

Cheney's style also saves a lot of unnecessary thinking. Here's how Rob Portman uses Cheney as a "sounding board".

"He never, ever has said to me, 'Do this.' Never. Which is interesting, because that might be the perception of how he operates," Portman said. "But it is 'What do you think of this?' Well, he's the vice president of the United States -- and obviously I'm interested in his point of view."
And finally, Edward Lazear, who extolls Dick's ability to run an efficient operation:

When Edward P. Lazear, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, broached the idea of limiting the popular mortgage tax deduction, he said he quickly dropped it after Cheney told him it would never fly with Congress. "He's a big timesaver for us in that he takes off the table a lot of things he knows aren't going to go anywhere," Lazear said.

Lazear, who is otherwise known as a fierce advocate for his views, said that he may argue a point with Cheney "for 10 minutes or so" but that in the end [Lazear] is always convinced. "I can't think of a time when I have thought I was right and the vice president was wrong."

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